A few years ago, mention the word ‘blockchain’ to most people and you’d be met with a blank stare.
Fast forward to now and thanks to the rise of digital cryptocurrency systems, blockchain – the technique which proves ownership of assets and provides the foundation for the likes of Bitcoin – is no longer quite so mysterious.
Blockchain technologies are now well recognised for managing digital identities and making online transactions secure and efficient, an important tool in helping to improve cyber-security and enabling transactions to be seamless and fast.
Blockchain technology also provides a more secure and rapid means of interacting and sharing sensitive information and removes the need for hard copies of documents which are prone to going missing or open to potential fraud, it is particularly attractive to the public sector.
Launched by managing director and cyber security specialist Stuart Fraser, software developer and chief technology officer Alan Keir and former Microsoft commercial executive Peter Ferry, Edinburgh-based Wallet.Services is now working hand in hand with the Scottish Government testing new ways of delivering safer public services.
It attracted an early accolade by winning the CivTech WildCard cyber security accelerator challenge for the best cyber idea in Scotland, with a vision for an Open Digital Access and Inter-Organisational Trust platform, enabled by co-use of civic BlockChain across Scottish government and its public bodies.
The award opened the door to working hand in hand with CivTech Accelerator demonstrating the benefits blockchain systems could bring across a range of public sector areas, from lowering costs and reducing complexity to making Scotland an easier place to do business.
Prototypes for its Siccar blockchain system were developed – the word is old Scots for sur and trusted, explains Iona Murray of Wallet.Services – with close collaboration from the CivTech unit, while the Scottish Government’s digital strategy in March last year committed to exploring the potential of blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology as being a key element of innovation and improved public services.
By August last year Wallet.Services had enlisted the support of tech sector entrepreneurs with a six figure seed funding round to help it drive its Siccar vision further forward.
The firm, based at tech incubator Codebase, rounded it all off in September last year when it was confirmed that its partnership with the Scottish Government and CivTech programme had been extended, with Wallet.Services tasked with liaising with partners and end users to lay down the structure for Scotland’s blockchain/DLT strategy.
The vision, explains Murray, would see blockchain technology used across public sector life, making it easier for small businesses to gain a foothold in local authority tender processes, removing the need for complicated and sluggish paperwork and just making everything that bit easier and more secure.
“Think of a applying for a driver’s licence,” she explains. “There are lots of different parts involved in the process. The DVLA is involved, medical records might have to be checked, police records, it starts to get complicated.
“With blockchain, the distributed ledger technology means it’s far more streamlined, all the services are joined up and its quick, efficient. We’d be able to do our tax returns, apply for a passport, and open a bank account all online with ease.
“If you take Estonia as an example of digital public services,” she adds. “Every citizen in Estonia has a digital ID which follows them in every interaction they have with government. Unlike paper-based processes here in the UK, this joins up all of their different public services.”
It is particularly effective in healthcare, with medical records stored securely, ensuring privacy and confidentiality, without the risk of overexposure.
Blockchain technologies could easily seep into a wealth of areas far beyond the world of finance, banking and currency where the technology is busy disrupting legacy systems and transforming the way businesses operate.
For as it evolves, any sector or service that requires secure identity authentication and a more efficient digital method of sharing sensitive information could be tapping into the benefits of blockchain technology.
“For the individual, blockchain can secure and simplify the process of voting online, paying taxes, applying for a mortgage or opening a bank account,” explains Murray.
“For society, it secures record keeping and sharing for and between local authorities, government agencies, banks and businesses.
“On a global level, blockchain is needed for international collaboration on environment, security and trade.
“Similar to mobile app development, the opportunities really are endless, and the best blockchain applications have yet to be thought of.”
Wallet.Services is now preparing to launch its first commercial version of Siccar in April. Yet while the benefits of blockchain seem clear, recent research from search and recruitment agency MBN Solutions revealed that while over half of businesses quizzed are planning blockchain initiatives, less than one in ten believe they have the skills in place within their organisations to handle it.
While more than 40 per cent of the non-IT/data senior executives admitted to not fully understanding blockchain technology, the research revealed that smart contracts, supply chain transformation and IP protection were seen as the top three non-fintech planned uses for the technology.
Paul Forrest, Chair of MBN, said the research showed a need for a shift towards building better tech skills to stay ahead of the curve.
“What is clear from the survey is that the conversation around blockchain is changing rapidly and we’re only now starting to understand this technology’s real, practical and full potential beyond the obvious financial applications.”
The boom in blockchain technology is addressed in today’s university fintech-related courses, but Murray believes there could well be space for blockchain to become a specialism in the future.
“This year blockchain will continue to emerge and mature in terms of scalability, verifiability, manageability and auditability,” she adds.
“The general perception has been that 2017 was the year of the pilot for blockchain. And 2018 is the year of implementation.”
For more information visit the Scottish Development International website